Is It Righteous to Be?: Interviews with Emmanuel Levinas

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Stanford University Press, 2001 - Philosophy - 307 pages
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Recent debates within Continental philosophy have decisively renewed the question of the ethical, with the French philosopher Emmanuel Levinas (1905-1995) as its center. Coming from yet in contestation with the phenomenological traditions of Husserl and Heidegger, Levinas defines ethics as an originary response to the face of the other. For him, language is an exception to a habitual economy that represses alterity and maintains the asymmetry and distance constitutive of the nontotalizing relation to the other. Ethics occurs in the interlocutionary relation to the other, and interpellation--a kind of interruption by speaking--is the essential feature of ethical language.

Between 1982 and 1992, Levinas gave numerous interviews, closing a distinguished sixty-year career. Of the twenty interviews collected in this volume, seventeen appear in English for the first time. In the interviews Levinas sets forth the central features of his ethical philosophy, previously enunciated in Totality and Infinity (1961), in a language that bridges to the idiom of his later work. He underlines his dedication to the phenomenological search for the concrete and the nonformal signification of alterity. He also elaborates issues that do not receive extensive treatment in his formal philosophical works, including the question of prephilosophical experiences and the ethical signification of money, justice, and the State.

The informality of the interviews prompts Levinas to address matters about which he is reticent in his published works, notably the relation of his ethical philosophy to theological questions, the intrication of the Hebrew Bible in Greek philosophy, his substantial corpus of "nonphilosophical" or "confessional" writings on the Talmud, and recollections of his extraordinary talmudic teacher, Shoshani.

The centerpiece of the volume is a previously untranslated 1986 interview with François Poirié. Containing Levinas's sole extended discussion of biographical matters with an interviewer, this text helps to situate Levinas in his contemporary intellectual world and to clarify his place in French thought.


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Is it Righteous to Be, edited by Jill Robbins shows in its interviews the importance of
the life of Emmanuel Levinas to his utterly original and urgently compelling philosophy. The interviews, all
given late in the career of Levinas, do, not so much reveal the "secret" Levinas; rather what comes through is the distillation of Levinas'
thinking on the issues that mattered most to him, and that were worthy of re-iterating.. There also stunning, short essays that appear in English for the first time. The language is distinctively accessible, and therefore, available and of importance to a wide range of readers.
Richard I. Sugarman
Professor of Religion
University of Vermont


Interview with François Poirié 1986
Interview with Myriam Anissimov 1985
Interview with Salomon Malka 1984
Shalt Not Kill 1986
On Jewish Philosophy 1985
Judaism and Christianity after Franz
Discussion Following Transcendence
Select Bibliography of Works by Emmanuel Levinas

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About the author (2001)

Jill Robbins is Professor of Comparative Literature and English at the State University of New York, Buffalo

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